Chip and I were discussing how difficult the NBA’s Western Conference is before the playoffs started, where you had every playoff spot up for grabs with only a few games left in the season. The Spurs and Thunder were fighting for the top overall spot; Denver, Memphis, and the Clippers were duking it out for spots 3-5; and Golden State was trying to hang onto the 6th spot while the Rockets, Lakers, and Jazz battled for the final two positions. And it went down to the final game of the season to determine all of that.
The question was posed: Which is tougher — the SEC West in football or the NBA’s Western Conference?
Memphis, whether you like it or not, is smack dab in the middle of SEC country. Growing up, I was raised on SEC football on Saturdays like it was church on Sundays. They tend to take that kind of thing seriously around here. And the SEC West has been a murderer’s row the last few seasons with Alabama and LSU at the forefront, Auburn and Texas A&M making their own noise as top tier teams, and Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Arkansas all showing signs of life from time to time. So, it is a fair question to ask.
I turned to two of the biggest sports fans I know to give me some insight on this, since they follow college football and the NBA just as rabidly as I do. My buddies from high school (and we won’t discuss how long ago that was for any of us), Robbie Wheeler and Brad McDaniel, each offered their opinion on this interesting query.
Brad: Given the choice, which I was, I would rather play in the NBA’s Western Conference because it is not quite as tough as playing in the in the SEC West. College football has a shorter season, thus less room for error. You get one shot to gain the tie-breaker over an opponent. You can only lose one game before your hopes of winning the division start to fade. In the Western Conference, you can lose 30% of your games and still win your division. SEC West teams play a far tougher schedule than Western Conference teams in the NBA. If you’ve played in the SEC West the last seven seasons, you’ve had to go through the reigning national champion or the soon to be national champion just to win your division.
Robbie: In the NBA, you are going to play Conference teams 3 or 4 times over an 82-game season. In the SEC, you play that conference foe just once right? Anything can happen in one game (see: Alabama/Texas A&M), but things tend to take a more true shape when you play more games against that team, although not always since Memphis lost the season series to the Clippers, but won in the first round against them. Once I get past Alabama in that one game, I feel like I can control my own destiny. Maybe I somehow dodge some of the SEC East elite and push my way to the top of the West with the tie-breaker over Bama. If I’m an OK team in the NBA West, it’s a long season, and I have to face the gauntlet of the Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Lakers, over and over and over in the regular season. Then, I make it to the playoffs, and I still have to beat them in the best of 7? And if I somehow make it out of the first round alive, I have to do it AGAIN! Just seems much, much tougher.
I’ll be honest — they both make compelling, well-reasoned arguments. On the one hand, in the SEC, one loss can drop you from the conference championship picture, much less the national title hunt. However, as we’ve seen in the playoffs so far, any team in the playoffs can get hot and take down another team. It truly seems like six of one, half a dozen of the other when you look at it logically. Neither is easy — that’s for certain!
Chime with your own thoughts and let us know which side you’d pick.